While many voters and commentators now regard Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as different sides of the same political or ideological coin one doesn’t have to travel too far back in time to find a period when the differences between both parties were still quite substantial. Until recent decades FF regularly found merit in its claim to be the party of the working- and lower middle-classes, of the “corner boys” and “small farmers”; of being both “slightly constitutional” and slightly capitalist. Despite the emergence of the more entrepreneurial “men in mohair suits” among its ranks in the 1950s and ’60s the self-styled “Republican Party” continued to lean to the populist left on certain socio-economic matters, appealing to a base that was “sound” on the national question without necessarily being overly eager about the answer.
However with the rise of the parish pump dynasties that came to dominate Irish politics at the end of the 20th century, of second and third generation politicians with no direct memories of revolution or counterevolution, the previously inhospitable no man’s land between the Soldiers of Destiny and the Family of the Irish began to narrow. This continued into the 1980s and ’90s until common ground was reached on the issue of partition, making the acceptance of the north-south status quo the new normal in Dublin, sidelining the previous demand among many for a return to the status quo ante on the island. With the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 the last scraps of distinction between FF and FG were laid to rest along with the ghosts of civil war. By the early 2000s FF and FG had mutated into fairly conventional centre-right Christian Democrat parties, putting an occasional Hibernian twist on their enthusiasm for mainstream Western neoliberal policies, but otherwise turning old ideological affiliations into mere affectations of tradition or branding.
Today the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Irish politics are all but identical, removing even the veneer of occasional democratic change that once hung over the post-revolution duopoly. A situation that draws comparison with events in the United States where the economic differences between the leaderships of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are often more imagined than real, with only a handful of topics like religion or race providing more overt tokens of separation. Though even these are sometimes played more for the sake of electoral theatrics than genuine belief.
Have a look at this sparring confrontation between longtime Clinton apologist Richard Goodstein and the hosts of the YouTube current affairs show The Rising, Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti. The double-think and cant is incredible as he continues to defend the Clinton camp’s vendetta against Bernie Sanders. A vendetta born of self-entitlement and privilege. The sort of entitlement that made Hilary Clinton assume that she had the automatic right to be president, and infuriated when denied it. Which sounds not unlike certain politicians in our own ruling cartel in the aftermath of the recent history-making general election.